Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Hetty, Byatt, and Reese - three friends at Raxter, an all-girls boarding school on a remote island. A disease called the Tox is giving the girls grotesque mutations, keeping them trapped in quarantine.
When Byatt goes missing, Hetty and Reese break the quarantine to find out where she’s been taken, setting off a chain of horrific events that threaten everyone on Raxter.
Queer, horror, science fiction, young adult
It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her.
It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there's more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.
The primal, alien nature of Raxter creeps into every paragraph. It reminds me of Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, as both have themes of humans faced with an alien world that invades and changes their nature. The mystery of the Tox was the enticing focus of the book. Readers will be disappointed when there aren’t clear answers, but it fits with the themes. The Tox is a wild force that humans can’t comprehend, and to offer a full explanation would be to remove much of its mystery and power. The scariest things are the ones we can’t comprehend, so keeping us in the dark about its full nature makes it that much creepier.
I loved that this book is about female bonds, both platonic and romantic. Loyalty and friendship drive Hetty’s decision to break the quarantine, and it’s what they rely on to survive. The Raxter authority is either dead or corrupt, and outside authority abandoned them. All they have is each other.
The characters in this book are traumatized, messy, desperate people. People who love flawed characters will enjoy reading about them as they work through their flaws and grudges to survive.
If you don’t like open endings, this isn’t for you. We get no clear answers about what will happen next, or even about who survives. The book ends as though there will be a sequel, but I haven’t found evidence that there will be. I would have liked more closure in regards to the characters’ fates. The ending was jarring, with major characters being abandoned to a fate not even seen on page. It seemed disingenuous to the characters for it all to end so suddenly.
More information about the fascinating and eerie world, more time for relationships to grow, more closure, would have made it amazing. Nevertheless, I loved this story and was hooked throughout. The author has incredible skill in building tension and fear, and I cared a great deal about the fates of everyone. A creepy, chilling, thought-provoking read.